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Edition #222 May 15, 2014
The Right Place at the Right Time
Photographer: Charlie Dischinger
Photo by Charlie Dischinger
The Right Time at the Right Place
I have always been fascinated by low light situations in the rain when all of the lights reflect off of everything. When I first went digital in '95 with its greater exposure latitude, one of the first things I tried to do was begin to shoot in such situations. Over the years, I kept going back to the Sonic on the north side of Springfield with the BNSF mainline running on the embankment behind it. Especially when it was raining. While my results had been satisfactory, I always felt like I could do better.
On August 31, of 2012, we had a good steady light rain all afternoon and I thought it would be an ideal situation to once again to try shooting a train passing behind the Sonic Drive-in. Having retired from the railroad and still having many contacts, I knew there were four trains called to go south and there were five trains coming north from Memphis. All of them would pass behind the Sonic. So I gathered up my gear and headed for the north side of town after dinner. Upon arrival, I had a good idea of the angle I wanted to shoot. So I parked on a vacant lot across the street from the Sonic and sat in my truck and listening to the radio for trains to get the OK to leave town.
It was still pretty light when the first train came into town. so I shot it from a different angle. When I heard the second northbound train call for a track, I sat up my tripod and camera, holding the big bright golf umbrella over my head to shield myself and camera from the rain. It wasn't very long before the manager of the Sonic came out and told me that I couldn't take pictures of them. I looked around and told he I was on a public side walk and there was nothing illegal about what I was doing. I told her I wasn't trying to be smart and that I was not really interesting in shooting her employees as much as the trains. I then asked her if she still had a problem with that, that I would be more than happy to call the police to clarify the situation. She turned around and went back inside and a few minutes later the second northbound train passed behind the Sonic. By the time this second train came into town is was just starting to get to that magical twilight period where the lights really begin to show up and shine.
After that second train passed, it continued to get darker and the differences in ambient light and the lights inside the Sonic began to really balance out. It was about that time that I heard the third northbound train call the tower for a track. By this time, the drizzle of rain had stopped and as I could begin to hear the train approaching slowly to enter the yard a couple of blocks to the left, a guy rode his bicycle up to the pedestrian order board, dropped the bike on the ground and placed his order. I was thinking, it couldn't get any better than this. Then, at the last minute as the train was almost there, a girl came walking down the street and up to the pedestrian order board and pushed the button just as the train was coming out from behind the building. If that was not enough, the carhop appeared in the window behind the counter and the guy who had been sitting at the table against the building, got up to leave. About the only thing that could have made the situation better, is if the train had been leaving instead of coming into town.
While I was quite pleased with how everything came together, it encourage me to continue shooting because I knew there were still four trains that were called and had not departed. I also knew that there were still two more trains coming north and overdue. While I waited, it began to rain again and this time harder than in the afternoon. Finally after about forty-five minutes, I heard the first southbound train say they were ready to leave and get the OK to depart. So I set up again, holding the big golf umbrella over my head and camera. But with the rain and wind, my legs were getting soaking wet by the time I could hear the first southbound train approaching. It was at that time that another pedestrian walked up to the pedestrian order board and placed his order. While he was patiently waiting for his food under the roof, a car pulled up to the drive-thru window as the train came into view. Although it was now dark, there was still enough ambient light to be able to keep shooting.
Over the past several years, I have made several trips to shoot trains passing behind the Sonic Drive In, but I have never caught anyone at any of the tables or pedestrian order board. But on this particular night, I had it happen twice. Maybe I should have bought a lottery ticket that night before I went home. Regardless, it was a good night because I was at the right place, at the right time.
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Revised: 05/15/14 07:52:11 -0400